Recent closings of the two largest stables for riding instruction in Fairfax County have alarmed the equestrian community and spawned a new group that is asking for a public facility to replace them.
Fairfax 4 Horses (F4H) will have an “urgent community meeting” at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 3, at the Great Falls Grange, and emails are going out to ask the public for ideas and support, said Linda Byrne of Vienna, one of the organizers who serves on the F4H steering committee.
She cited the closings of the Great Falls Horse Center last year and Bay Ridge Stable off Route 50 this year as sources of growing community concern for the presence of horse sports in Fairfax County.
Both stables existed on private properties that will be converted for residential development, although a private stable will continue on part of the acreage that once was leased to the Horse Center.
Hundreds of people were enrolled in riding lessons at the two facilities, Byrne said, and few of them can afford to buy their own horse in order to continue, she said.
“There are fewer and fewer facilities where people who don’t have horses can take lessons,” said Beverly Dickerson of Oakton, F4H chairman.
“There is nothing close by for people who might not have the money to invest [in horse ownership], but want to try it, or expose their children to caring for an animal.”
To critics who say they should seek horse sports in other counties, Dickerson said, “That’s like saying ‘If I have inline roller skates I have to go to Fauquier County to use them,’” said Dickerson.
“Fairfax County makes an effort to provide recreational facilities to a wide range of people, and horseback riding is important. Horses have played a large role in Virginia historically. “Virginia is still known as hunt country,” she said.
“Caring for horses gives [children and teenagers] a feeling of competence that translates to self-confidence later in ther lives.”
F4H WAS FOUNDED by Kevin O’Connor of Vienna, who is not himself a rider, but wants to support his wife who rides, Byrne said.
“There is no place people can go and have a riding lesson,” she said. “There are a few private stables, but most are booked, and there are few that are available,” she said.
“[O’Connor] also thought this would help keep open space” in the county, she said.
F4H has 1,000 names of interested supporters, and 300 people on its email list, said Byrne.
Its steering committee includes co-chairs Dickerson and O’Connor; Rebecca Thompson Brown, Marcia House, Lisa Mulville, Renny Martin, and Byrne.
The Oct. 3 meeting is intended to “raise public awareness, get a discussion going, and gather information,” she said. “We want people to bring their ideas and thoughts about how we can proceed and what is really needed.”
“The core group of F4H has done quite a bit of work on the cost of a facility, its size, and things that would be helpful for us to move ahead with the county’s assistance,” Byrne said. Time also will be set aside for “brainstorming.”
F4H is identifying properties of 20 acres or more that connect with parkland and have access to trails that might be used for a riding facility.
“It is not enough to teach someone how to ride,” Byrne said. “[After] riding in a circle all the time, it is nice to be able to go out into trails.
She said F4H envisions a facility where 20 school horses would live on the property, and there would be room for boarders. With a larger property, “you could go up to 40 or 50 school horses and supply the kind of thing that is really needed,” she said.
Montgomery County, Md., has several public facilities that provide riding instruction, but Fairfax County does not.
The Fairfax County Park Authority has previously offered lessons at Bay Ridge, before it closed.
“Location and price are important to us,” said Byrne. “It is not enough to throw us down into the southern part of the county.
It would just build traffic and make those red alert days happen more frequently.
“It’s just needed in this area. There are so many people in Great Falls, McLean, Vienna and Oakton that still horses. In the one square mile where I live in Oakton, there are more than 100 horses,” Byrne said.
The area is comprised of three Fairfax County magisterial districts: Providence, Hunter Mill and Dranesville.